Due to technical difficulties, we regret to inform you that the long-standing contribution that your organization has made to international educational development over the past 50 years is now threatened. The major funding allocation that you have come to expect from your federal government is no longer available to you. We thank you for your contribution to the work of international development.
I don’t have access to the exact words that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) used to let the Canadian Teachers Federation (CTF) know that their overseas development work was no longer going to funded by the federal government, but I sense that this was the crux of the message.
It was 1962, nearly 50 years ago when Canadian educators Clark MacDonald and Penny Banks landed in Nigeria to provide inservice support to teachers in that country. Since that time, nearly 2 000 Canadian teachers have volunteered their time and their expertise to offer support, mentoring and professional development to teachers in Africa, Asia and the Carribean.
Not only has Project Overseas reached out to improve the quality of teaching in the developing world, but the impact that the program has had on volunteer participants has helped to raise awareness about the living and learning conditions in project areas. It has been a win-win situation and now, almost half a century later, the future of Project Overseas is in jeopardy.
For those close to the PO initiative, the announcement that funding was no longer being extended to CTF must have felt like a punch in the face. For me, I began to hear the news first through a series of tweets and email messages, and my mind turned immediately to those teachers I knew who had recently returned from their volunteer experience revitalized, with a new sense of purpose, and a newly discovered heart for a people and a culture thousands of kilometres away. Their eagerness to share the experience with staff and students in our school community has been very much appreciated.
As I scanned today’s morning news sources, I discovered a Global Voices piece written by Craig and Marc Kielburger: Ruling with compassion rather than an iron trunk. The article counters the self-absorbed, individualistic approach to success found in the recently popularized Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, with the benefits of compassion, kindness and social/emotional intelligence. The Kielburgers point to the recent global economic crisis as a phenomenon fed by a narrative that places the success of the individual ahead of the good of the collective. The international development organizations and initiatives that have traditionally have consistently challenged this thinking. CTF’S Project Overseas has been a vibrant part of this counter-narrative.
A government that professes to be dedicated to things like foreign aid, millenium development goals and the role of the international community should be leading by example when it comes to its funding priorities. The removal of funding from an organization committed to working in an area as vitally important to reaching these goals as education appears to me to be, at the very least, misguided.
CTF has spent the past 50 years developing programs, networks and an infrastructure that enables teachers to use their time and their abilities to help with the goal of Education For All. This is work that is done in small deliberate steps. It is work that is done through the willingness to share ideas, knowledge of effective teaching practice and the ability to sit side-by-side with developing teachers in developing communities. It is not unlike the day-to-day work of the teacher!
I’m not certain what led to the decision to pull funding for the development work of the CTF. Perhaps it was a conservative mindset that sees an opportunity to turn this type of work over to the private sector. Perhaps, it was a type of political backlash aimed at punishing those members of the international community who weren’t supportive of Canada’s recent bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. There are likely other reasons that will remain hidden behind the closed doors of the PMO.
For Canada, the CIDA announcement represents a turning point in our government’s commitment to the ideals of international development. For the CTF, the news challenges the organization’s ability to reach out and offer the expertise and mentorship of one of the finest educational systems in the world. And for me personally, I feel the need to, at the very least, raise my voice on this issue.
If you feel strongly about this, sign the petition available at the Canadian Teachers Federation website. Share news articles related to this issue with your friends, and those on your network. In today’s Globe and Mail, Kate Hammer wrote about the CIDA decision. In the Toronto Star, Heather Mallick had strong words for the Federal Government.
Let’s hope that, with a strong reaction by those who support the work of CTF and initiatives like Project Overseas, that this decision might be revised before the next round of participant applications are due.